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Friday, March 15, 2013

"Paanch Juhu"

I have not been a regular on the Fourth Seat. Not on the blog but on the actual seat. I have been taking the bus routinely since a few days. Bus Journeys are so much more different. Instead of bustling stations, you stop by every once in a while at a bus stop and at every traffic signal and every time some dude decides to create a jam, for fun. So it's not a smooth ride but in the end it gets you to places that the train can never manage to. Due to the general pace of the bus, the sights around keep changing slowly. It gives me enough time to read every signboard and hoardings - both legal and illegal. Legal selling soap, illegal one wishing a very happy birthday to the 'yuva' shakhapramukh, gatneta or the likes. And then there are the passengers. So much more different than their counterparts on the local. We'll talk about them some other time though.

For now, here's what happened on the bus. Route no 203 heading to Juhu Beach. Crowded it was. I had a seat though(window). Somewhere after Malad station, a family of 5 boarded the bus. A elderly couple, the son and daughter in law with a toddler and the grandmother. The conductor was his usual self, ushering everyone in and ringing the bell, swearing when he felt like. The old man sat down, and the ladies also found seats. He removed a crumpled 100 rupee note and waved at the conductor, said "Paanch Juhu" but whimsical, as he was, the conductor said "I'll come back to you" In the meanwhile, the son insisted that he'd buy the tickets but they never settled the matter as the conductor walked away. After a few stops had passed, the conductor returned to the old man while the son found a seat two rows to the back. The old man, as a rule abiding citizen that he seemed to be, retrieved the same note from his pocket and said "Paanch Juhu"

At this juncture, I would like to pause the narrative a little bit and focus on a mute spectator sitting right behind this old man - yours truly. I had been observing this family since the time they got onto the bus. The old man had wrapped a gamcha around his head, the ladies wore sarees with the pallu covering their faces, typical of women from UP. The son wore shirtpant. The old lady was frail and I wondered how she put up with every inconvenience on the bus with a sombre expression. Almost resigned to her fate she seemed. And then the conductor walked up to the old man and I again heard the old man's voice. At the moment, I almost prodded his shoulder to remind him of his Son's offer to buy tickets. There was a slight chance that the conductor had already issued five tickets to the son. I wanted to ask the conductor to stop and confirm but he had already pressed the button on the ugly new ticket dispenser. The paper roll unraveled itself and the conductor tore off the ticket and handed it to the man - 90 bucks + 3 for a toddler! And that's when the son hollered that he had already bought the tickets. I cursed myself for not having acted. But my experience on the BEST, tells me that the conductor sub species belonging to the species of Sarkari servants is unique, they remember obscure details and generally ask 'Kaun Paanch?" before issuing 5 tickets totalling to 90 bucks!

And here we were, stumped at what had just happened. BEST has just made a killing. Or at least that's how the conductor made it look like - because he simply threw his hands up and refused to return the money, smiling nonchalantly all the while. "Nahi nahi, aata kon ghenaar! Long distance ahe te, basa ata" *smirk* Gleefully he added as if imagining a pat from the treasury-head for getting extra 90 bucks for the company! I am sure, there is a clause in the BEST handbook that deals with the issue of double ticketing, but as it is with government provisions, it would probably entail too much paper work and so he simply refused to refund the tickets and went about ringing the bell. The old man didn't appear to be grumpy, not did he create a ruckus and nor did he mutter complaints to his co-passenger. He sat back, gazing out of the window, perhaps recalling all the other times when he has suffered from the folly of the system, and shouldered all the blame.. As for me, it was a lesson learnt. To act when convinced even fifty percent. I would've made a fool of myself, maybe even insulted for meddling but it might have saved an old man, his hard earned 100 bucks.

My stop was nearing so I collected my bag and made way to the front of the bus. Sincerely hoping that someone would walk in with four passengers and say "Paanch Juhu"

1 comment:

Jagruti Khosla said...

Hey rushikesh very well written... Loved the concept.